Skip to main content

Full text of "[untitled] The American Historical Review, (1920-07-01), pages 729-732"

See other formats


STOP 



Early Journal Content on JSTOR, Free to Anyone in the World 

This article is one of nearly 500,000 scholarly works digitized and made freely available to everyone in 
the world by JSTOR. 

Known as the Early Journal Content, this set of works include research articles, news, letters, and other 
writings published in more than 200 of the oldest leading academic journals. The works date from the 
mid-seventeenth to the early twentieth centuries. 

We encourage people to read and share the Early Journal Content openly and to tell others that this 
resource exists. People may post this content online or redistribute in any way for non-commercial 
purposes. 

Read more about Early Journal Content at http://about.jstor.org/participate-jstor/individuals/early- 
journal-content . 



JSTOR is a digital library of academic journals, books, and primary source objects. JSTOR helps people 
discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content through a powerful research and teaching 
platform, and preserves this content for future generations. JSTOR is part of ITHAKA, a not-for-profit 
organization that also includes Ithaka S+R and Portico. For more information about JSTOR, please 
contact support@jstor.org. 



Smith: War with Mexico 729 

Virginia declared war to the knife upon Douglas and thus helped Lin- 
coln to the presidency. Hunter was himself a candidate for the Demo- 
cratic nomination in i860, and Wise must of necessity ask as much or 
confess himself second fiddle to Douglas. This rivalry blinded the eyes 
of the greater Virginians of that day and made the Old Dominion, proud 
as she was, impotent at Charleston. The Hunter machine was not 
strong enough to crush Wise and, busy all the while trying to do so, let 
the leadership of the South fall to such men as Rhett and Yancey, who 
blindly drove forward the chariot of war into the fatal cataclysm — few 
of the people dreaming that war and bloodshed were to be their lot. 

Historians will find much in these letters to explain, if not to change, 
their judgments. In 1852 Seddon wrote to Hunter that henceforth the 
South must nominate and control presidents, not endeavor to set up 
candidates of their own. Edmund W. Hubard, a member of the 
Hunter machine, said in effect (p. 141), give the North the honors of 
government and we may take the measures. David R. Atchison wrote 
in March, 1855, that seven thousand Missourians were then in Kansas 
to take part in the election (p. 161). And Isaac E. Holmes of Charles- 
ton declared that Atchison was the master spirit in the Kansas " revo- 
lution ". 

William E. Dodd. 

The War with Mexico. By Justin H. Smith, formerly Professor 
of Modern History at Dartmouth College. In two volumes. 
(New York: Macmillan Company. 1919. Pp. xxii, 572; xiv, 
620. $10.00. ) J 

No event in our history has been so distorted by ignorance, prejudice, 
misinterpretation, and downright misrepresentation as the Mexican 
War. Passions inflamed by the slavery question and the angry political 
struggles preceding and following the war created an emotional atmos- 
phere in which vituperation took the place of sober reasoning and slan- 
derous assertion too often supplanted proved fact. Probably not since 
the ratification of the Constitution has there been less national esprit 
and team-work than during the four years of Polk's administration. 
The multitude of presidential aspirants in and out of the army, each of 
whom believed his own success dependent upon the destruction of his 
rivals' claims to honor and intelligence, the irritating jibes and innuen- 
does of the British press, and the natural bitterness of Mexican writers, 
have left a fog of confusion which American historians until recently 
have shown little disposition to dispel. The task of doing so, indeed, 
was staggering, and to form a fair judgment of the present volumes at 
least two sets of difficulties must be kept in mind. In the first place, 
with a controversy at every step involving national or personal reputa- 
tion and character, only a fine sifting of all the material would give the 
work permanent worth — and the amount of material is enormous, and 

1 See p. 755. 



730 Reviews of Books 

largely in manuscript. In the second place, refutation (and to a less 
degree confirmation) of traditional historical verdicts must be set forth 
in plain language, with emphasis enough to carry the point, with such 
evident fullness, fairness, and detachment as to avoid the suspicion of 
partizanship, and with explicit and abundant citations to sustain the 
position taken. 

Of Dr. Smith's industry and success in mastering the first of these 
difficulties there can be no question. He believes, and there appears no 
reason to doubt, that he has examined " every pertinent document " in 
the government archives of the United States and Mexico, including 
some state collections in both countries ; he has searched the archives of 
Great Britain, France, Spain, Cuba, Colombia, and Peru; has examined 
collections of historical societies and of individuals; and has studied 
more than twelve hundred books and pamphlets and two hundred period- 
icals, including magazine and newspaper files for the period. The ex- 
amination of 100,000 manuscripts and the assimilation of those needed 
for his problem is an accomplishment that can be adequately appreciated 
only by one who has worked largely with such material. To qualify 
himself for the military part of his work, he studied Napoleon, Clause- 
witz, Jomini, Moltke, Henderson, and other authorities, and visited every 
battlefield of the war. 

Of the fruit of this labor — the success with which he has attacked 
the second set of difficulties — there will perhaps be divergent opinions. 
In the main, the reviewer agrees with his conclusions concerning every 
important question affecting our national honor, and believes that they 
will become, substantially, the ultimate verdict of history. These are: 
the honest intent of our government to maintain neutrality during the 
Texas revolution; our own forbearance and Mexico's inexcusable shifti- 
ness concerning the settlement of the claims ; our right to annex Texas 
without just offense to Mexico; the sincerity of Polk's desire to avoid 
war by the Slidell mission; the necessity for and essential justification 
of the war; and the refutation of the charge that Polk provoked the 
war to seize California. Knowing the scope of the author's investiga- 
tion, it was to be hoped that his findings would be so clearly stated and 
so firmly buttressed as to carry conviction to every reasonable reader; 
but it is to be doubted whether they will have that effect. The trouble 
is mainly with the method of presentation, but is partly due to a subtlety 
that amounts on occasions almost to casuistry (see, in general, for 
typical examples, ch. XXXII.). To particularize, Dr. Smith has adopted 
a style, deliberately one feels, which could perhaps be most readily in- 
duced by prolonged draughts of Carlyle topped off with The Education 
of Henry Adams. It is allusive, epigrammatic, sometimes cryptic, imag- 
inative, and dramatic; rarely simply narrative and expository. "Re- 
marks", at the back of the book, frequently supplement and elucidate 
the text, but we are advised to read a chapter as a whole before looking 
at the notes. Much space is given to the beauty of the scenery, the rare 



Smith: War with Mexico 731 

shrubs and flowers, the clear atmosphere, snow-capped mountains, and 
brilliant birds; and much more to apparently casual, but in reality, one 
suspects, studied, descriptions of the human figures of the book, in which 
even the flush of a face is noticed. One need not quarrel, it is true, 
with the ice and mint at the end of a substantial luncheon, but one pre- 
fers not to have them follow the cocktails. And it is to be feared that 
Dr. Smith has unduly compressed his book for the sake of these pleas- 
ant travel pictures. 

It is difficult in a short review to show concretely, as fairness de- 
mands, qualities that permeate the book, but two brief paragraphs will 
illustrate a good deal. The first is an incident in the battle of Con- 
treras (II. 109) : 

Finally a slightly round-shouldered man, with blue eyes, a sandy 
mustache and sandy hair, walked slowly to the front and looked at his 
watch. It was about six o'clock. " Are you ready ? " he asked in a 
cheery voice. " Ready ! " the troops answered with a meaning smile. 
He gave them a keen glance. " Men, forward ! " he then ordered, for 
it was General Smith. " Forward, forward ! " flew the command through 
the ranks, and ahead they went. 

The citation supporting this imaginative passage is note 11. The same 
citation follows every paragraph for seven pages, and the note itself, 
covering the whole battle of Contreras, includes nearly a page of refer- 
ences and three pages of " Remarks ". The second is an incident in 
the ratification of the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (II. 246). The 
treaty had reached Polk on "February 19 amid a storm of disapproval : 

But suddenly the head of John Quincy Adams, as he sat in the House, 
dropped. He was borne to the Speaker's room. " This is the last of 
earth; I am content", murmured the venerable statesman. For two 
days he lingered, unconscious; and then he passed away. This tragic 
event had a deep effect. There fell a hush, as when snow descends upon 
the city pavement. The sessions of Congress were suspended. Senators 
were prevented from announcing their positions hastily. And when 
discussion began once more, it was resumed with a new feeling of seri- 
ousness, a new sense of responsibility. 

This is undeniably dramatic, but if Adams's death did have the effect 
which the author categorically asserts, the fact is worth a reference, 
and there is no citation in note 21, which covers also the preceding para- 
graph, to support the assertion. 

The problem of references gave the author much difficulty; and 
while most scholars will sympathize with his perplexity, on account of 
his multitudinous sources, the system which he adopted will not seem 
to them a happy solution. With the utmost confidence in Dr. Smith's 
fairness, accuracy, and impartiality, they will want greater explicitness 
than is afforded by a single reference index, often repeated for many 
paragraphs, to a large group of titles. This is not to say that less gen- 
eral citations are never made, but they are the exception and not the 

AM. HIST. REV., VOL. XXV. — 48. 



"J 2,2 Reviews of Books 

rule. The matter becomes serious when one doubts the accuracy of a 
conclusion — as inevitably many must in a subject bristling with contro- 
versy. The writer confesses to uneasiness at the eternal Tightness of 
Scott, and the complete rehabilitation of Trist. Not once throughout 
the book is Scott at fault. Once, indeed, misinformation caused him 
to change a plan suddenly and order a movement which unexpectedly 
encountered a concealed fort and strong resistance ; but here he " did 
what we know it had not been his intention to do" (II. 113-115). The 
law of averages warns against such perfection. 

Most of this discussion may be reduced to the statement that the 
reviewer is disappointed, because it seems to him that Dr. Smith has 
not accomplished once for all the results that his immense labor and 
impressive grasp of the subject would have enabled him to do had he 
written with more regard to the necessary limitations of his readers. 
It would be a grievous error, however, to infer that he has not produced 
a notable book. He has settled some problems finally — for example, the 
quibble over whether the Herrero government consented to receive a 
commissioner ad hoc or an envoy with plenary authority (I. 91-96, 436- 
438) ; he has given us chapters on the navy, finance, politics, and foreign 
relations during the war which will satisfy the most captious ; his analy- 
sis of Mexican politics and politicians, while not simpatico, is keen and 
accurate ; and he has gone very far toward putting the capstone to that 
readjustment of our ideas concerning the early relations between the 
United States and Mexico which Edward Gaylord Bourne inaugurated 
in these pages just twenty years ago. 1 One may not always agree with 
the author, but very few will be rash enough to neglect him. 

Eugene C. Barker. 

The Life of General Ely S. Parker, Last Grand Sachem of the Iro- 
quois and General Grant's Military Secretary. By Arthur C. 
Parker, State Archaeologist of New York. [Buffalo Historical 
Society, Publications, vol. XXIII. ] (Buffalo : the Society. 1919. 
Pp. xiv, 346. $5.00.) 

The Buffalo Historical Society has placed under obligation all stu- 
dents interested in biographical matters relating to the Seneca-Iroquois 
of New York state by the publication of volume XXIII. of their series 
of memoirs, The Life of General Ely Samuel Parker by Mr. Arthur 
Caswell Parker, whose excellent work in archaeology has, perhaps, a 
greater value to humanity than the deeds of the subject he so ably 
expounds. 

The six Iroquois tribes or nations of New York state have produced 
many notable characters in warfare, oratory, diplomacy, statecraft, and 
in the poetry and philosophy of myth and religion. The ancestors of 

i"The United States and Mexico, 1847-1848", Am. Hist. Rev., V. 491- 
502 (April, 1900).